Archives for category: Testimonies

I spent the second day of the Conclave in a cloud of determination bent on opposing Cardinal Dolan’s wishes that all cooperate with the Conclave. I was to involved with it to not be part of it. So I headed into the city by train first stopping at my daughter Sharon’s apartment in Washington Heights. The rain was torrential. While there I was delighted to find several huge boxes which held my grand children’s new beds. The boxes were perfect for writing my wishes about the Conclave and my first problem was solved. Leaving the apartment 20 minutes later I headed down by subway to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to case the place out. When I arrived I found the press swarming as they were reporting about the Conclave from the steps of the Cathedral. The rain was relentless. I left deciding to wait until the press left determined to return in the evening. Returning to Washington Heights I waited the day playing with my grandchildren. Then around 6:30 I set out again taking my unwieldy boxes on the Subway. First making a prayer of thankfulness for the rain had stopped and my final problem was solved.

Not surprisingly I found myself in a pub around the corner from St. Patrick’s fortifying myself with dinner for the long night. While there I struck up a conversation with an elderly black women who was seated alone next to me. This turned into a typical occupy conversation. First I talked about my mission and mass incarceration. Then she told me she had only slept for one hour, had just arrived from Virginia for a one day ministerial conference and then divulged several deeply personal childhood traumas. One included this story. “The night of the worst racial rioting in Mississippi, my father gathered all of his children in the car and he just drove. He drove until they were hungry and tired and in the middle of he had no idea where but it was away from the rioting. He stopped in front of a house knocked on the door and explained his plight. A white women welcomed them in and gave them dinner, filled several large boxes with food and sent them on their way.” Minister Cornelia told me I reminded her of this woman. We ended the evening with a very long embrace and her prayers for my mission and the healing of my brokenness. Taking my large boxes off I went to make my signs and stand in front of St. Patricks. The signs read:

Occupy Catholics

Conclave wishes

No sexism

no racism

no pedophilia

Embrace the poor and



To the Cardinals

Cooperate with what?

More of the same?

I would say that about one hundred people passed St. Pat’s that night. All stopped to read the sign. No one said a word. It was like a silent prayer. Around midnight a man came and took pictures of the sign propped up against the huge doors of the Cathedral. He never said a word. When he left, the place was deserted so I left my sign on the closed doors and went home.


In America magazine:

This guest blog comes courtesy of Susan Wilcox, C.S.J., the director of campus ministry at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a member of Occupy Catholics.

For much of its existence, the Catholic Church has taught a profound suspicion of usury—that is, predatory lending which turns the borrower into a victim. As recently as 1745, Pope Benedict XIV warned in an encyclical that usury “assumes various forms and appearances in order that the faithful, restored to liberty and grace by the blood of Christ, may again be driven headlong into ruin.” Even the present Pope Benedict has called for “a renewed commitment on everyone’s part effectively to combat the devastating phenomenon of usury and extortion, which constitutes a humiliating form of slavery.” At a time of ongoing financial crisis, Catholics must remember that lending money is a matter of moral concern; we are forbidden from engaging in debt arrangements that foster an unjust debtor-lender relationship.

Catholic teaching about debt is relationally oriented. Loans that are unfairly weighted and prevent access to life-sustaining food, shelter and health care are immoral and illegitimate. This is why Catholics have worked for debt relief for the world’s poorest countries. Yet here in the United States, we have been conditioned by consumer culture with a veil of shame, to the point of thinking that debt is solely personal, rather than communal or relational. We often blame the poorest among us for problems created by the powerful. Thus, in the context of today’s worldwide economic collapse, there is something backward about the idea that it is the debtors who should be asking for forgiveness. In a moral universe, should not the 1 percent beg God for mercy while the 99 percent ask for forgiving hearts?

And what might it take for the 99 percent to be able to extend such forgiveness? In the early days of Occupy Wall Street, volunteers at the information table told me that Wall Street workers sometimes treated the table as a confessional to ease their guilt. But confession and forgiveness, by themselves, are not enough to change an immoral social order. Only when we the 99 percent strip away our shame, reclaim our essential dignity and resist nonviolently together will we bring about the justice that true reconciliation requires.

Strike Debt is a campaign, grown out of Occupy Wall Street, that seeks to build a movement of debtors by highlighting predatory lending practices while promoting debt resistance and mutual aid. The task these activists have set for themselves is a profoundly theological one; they are attempting to transform how people think about what they really owe in life and to whom.

Strike Debt began with extensive research on debt resistance, resulting in The Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual, which is now available for free in print and online. The manual is meant to be a participatory collection of research, strategies and tactics that will grow in future editions. Strike Debt members have made a special point of reaching out to religious communities like the interfaith network Occupy Faith and Occupy Catholics, of which I am a part, to help understand and frame their work from a theological perspective.

Drawing on the concept of the debt-forgiving jubilee from the Hebrew scriptures, Strike Debt calls its latest project the “Rolling Jubilee.” Defaulted loans will be purchased for pennies on the dollar, just as collection agencies do. But then the debt will be abolished. Activists plan to begin with abolishing medical debts, which are often forced on people with no other choice because of catastrophic illness. The idea has caught fire, winning the unlikely praise of Forbesand TIME Business & Money, and it has already raised enough money to abolish more than $2 million in debt. The Rolling Jubilee is designed to result in a bailout for the people, enabling us to free our communities from debt just as the government does for Wall Street and the country’s most powerful corporations.

Meanwhile, Occupy Faith is undertaking “A People’s Investigation: The Human Cost and Moral Implications of the Financial Crisis.” In the spirit of the truth commissions that followed South African apartheid and the civil rights movement, API is gathering stories from people who have fallen victim to many forms of predatory lending—from medical debt to credit cards, from municipal debt to student loans. These stories reveal how usury thrives in an individualistic society where employers reap rewards for paying less than a living wage. So far, API participants report the healing they have experienced from being listened to and from the knowledge that their story is contributing to something purposeful. The purpose of API, after all, is not only to collect stories of debt trauma but to publicize them as a resource in the struggle for a more just public policy.

Those of us in Occupy Catholics, inspired by the Occupy movement’s prophetic stand for economic justice, have been expressing our faith through creative direct action since last December. We have washed dirty feet, as Jesus did, and we have been arrested for sitting in the way of Wall Street. We help bring fellow Catholics to Occupy and Occupy to fellow Catholics with the conviction that our religious tradition is coded for justice. Most recently, inspired by the work of Strike Debt, we are speaking from the depth of our tradition to oppose usury as it is being practiced today—and we invite you to join us.

During this Jubilee Year of the Second Vatican Council, can we reclaim the spirit of the original jubilee of the Bible? Can we reclaim the debts that really matter and discard those that erode our relationships? In the words of a recent global call to debt resistance, “To the banks, we owe you nothing. To our friends, our families, our communities, to humanity and to the natural world that makes our lives possible, we owe you everything.”

– Susan Wilcox, C.S.J.

Monday’s New York Times suggests that even the one percent, the leaders of Wall Street, have been effected by the power of Hurricane Sandy. Certainly millions of middle class people have suffered dislocation, as well as loss of electricity, homes and their sense of security. What has been less discussed by the media and political leaders is how poor people (words hardly mentioned during the elections) here and around the world, whose daily support base is already fragile, have been the primary victims of Sandy and climate change in general.

In New York City, the residents of low income communities, such as Rockaway and the Lower East Side — most of them people of color, along with many elders and children — were first of all disproportionally vulnerable to the fury of the storm and then found themselves in dark streets and apartments and stranded in high rise buildings without elevators, without food or water and without the same level of timely aid as the more affluent areas. Happily, noble volunteer groups such as Occupy Sandy have stepped into the breach, a tribute to the ingenuity and generosity of the Occupy movement.

Even less known is the toll that Sandy took on the already struggling Carribean area before it touched on the U.S. mainland. Beautiful Santiago, the second largest city of Cuba with 500,000 people and 650,000 more on its outskirts was slammed by a Level 5 hurricane, which flattened its homes, schools and hospitals. They still have no electrical power after two weeks, while parts of New York City lit up after four days. Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, was also devastated.

On September27, almost prophetically a few days before Sandy, several Carribean and other heads of state made an urgent appeal to the next UN Climate Change Conference to be held on Nov. 29 in Qatar. They challenged the UN, in light of the failure of many of the past climate gatherings, to finally create concrete plans, strategies, financial aid and binding treaties to address the climate crisis, especially as it impacts the developing nations.

In their statements, these leaders insisted that their people are already the victims of global scorching:

“The islands of our planet are at war against climate change, warming temperatures and rising seas… Entire nations… may cease to exist as a result of our inaction.”

These are the voices of the poor — of the lowest percentile of the 99 percent — calling out to us. They are telling us that the climate policies of the richer nations and of the energy corporations do not represent their interests or the interests of Mother Earth. Sandy is a dramatic reminder of the words of Jesus: “Whatever you did not do for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did not do it to me.” ( Matthew 25)

Fr. Paul Mayer, originally published at The Huffington Post.

A rising sea of change is flowing across the conscience of America and the world as we realize that we have the potential to change our economic paradigm towards a more inclusive model, one which includes all people. More and more people who have been given enough social, emotional and material freedom realize the present system doesn’t work for the have’s nor the have nots. The predominantly young people in the Occupy Movement have taken the lessons they have learned from our present inefficient and inequitable economic system and cast them, with a tremendous breath of altruism, into the hope of creating a more just economic paragon. These new leaders who stand for economic equality are continually searching for new ways to work towards a more equitable economic system. They want those who have less financial stability to have a chance to actualize their full potential and those who have more to be happy and fully engaged with all humanity. It has not gone unrecognized that this push toward less greed to help address more need is in keeping with the teaching of Catholic Social Justice as defined by Vatican 11.

One of their latest ventures is the Rolling Jubilee a debt bailout of the people by the people. This Strike Debt initiated project has set up a fund to buy defaulted medical debt for pennies on the dollar – just like debt collectors do. But, instead of collecting on this “debt,” they are going to abolish it.
This extraordinarily magnanimous gesture by a group of people who see that there future rests on the betterment of everybody’s future is a testament to their greatness in this often divided country. They come from an assortment of faith backgrounds or from a lack of faith, however, they share the common belief that love is our binding force. Who can argue with this noble aspiration. There is nothing wrong with there appeal to idealism realized. I have had my opportunity to raise a family and I stand behind these young people who are willing to put their livelihoods on the line for a better world. I stand behind these young people with fear and trembling knowing the harsh realities of living within an economic system in which many people have cut their souls out in the name of corporate greed and rationalized it by isolating themselves from the poor while living ‘the good life’. The wealthy often dish out huge sums of money to charities in a thinly veiled effort to assuage their own conscience and convince themselves they have the right answer to the solution of poverty. The actualizing of real change where we all care for one another takes hard work and often back breaking toil. It is not a world of feel good service. It is going to take change on everyones part. In my book they have already accomplished their dream. Let us all learn from them. We can all support the Rolling Jubilee as a vote of confidence in the Occupy Movement and the younger generation who have been so profoundly affected by our collective mistakes. You can be sure I will be donating!

Strike Debt of the Occupy Movement will launch on November 15th with a telethon called “The People’s Bailout.” There will be roughly three hours of music, comedy, education, magic. Confirmed guests include: comedian Janeane Garofalo, Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead, actor/director John Cameron Mitchell (‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’), comedian Hari Kondabolu, David Rees of ‘Get Your War On’, Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Guy Picciotto of Fugazi, Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, and more. The telethon will be at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City and will be streamed live at Tickets are on sale here.

Our goal is to raise $50,000, which will allow us to abolish more than $1,000,000 dollars worth of medical debt. 100% of donations will go to buying debt. If we raise more, we’ll buy more debt. Donations can be made online at

– Bernice McCann

SMtE: Thanks for coming on the St. Matthew the Evangelist Show, Jesus. I know you’re a busy man so let’s get right to it. You probably know of the great income disparity in the world today. What would you tell those who call themselves ‘Christians’ to do about it?

J: Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. 19:21

SMtE: Gee, I don’t hear any televangelist saying that. That’s a pretty hard thing to do, give your money to the poor. No wonder there aren’t many true Christians.

J: Many are called but few are chosen. 22:14 The harvest is rich, but laborers are few. 9:37

SMtE: But you’re saying the opposite of what our consumer culture is telling us, that we should be as rich as we possibly can be.

J: You can’t serve both God and money. 6:24 You must worship God and serve him alone. 4:10

SMtE: So you’re saying we shouldn’t want to be rich, huh?

J: I tell you truly, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. 19:23 It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it. 7:14 Many who are first will be last, and the last, first. 19:30

SMtE: Yikes, it sounds like there are a lot of rich and famous people we won’t be seeing in the hereafter. What would you tell the Occupy Wall St. folks, who are protesting the inequalities of our economic and political system?

J: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. 5:6

SMtE: But they’re getting beat up by the police!

J: Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of righteousness. 5:10 Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body, but not kill the spirit. 10:28

SMtE: But they’ll haul them off to court to face a judge. What then?

J: Don’t worry about how to speak or what to say, because it is not you who will be speaking. The Holy Spirit will be speaking through you. 10:19, 20

SMtE: But you’re facing a court of law.

J: The weightier matters of the Law are justice, mercy and faithfulness. 23:23

SMtE: Golly, I’m not sure they teach that even in Christian law schools! I gotta tell ya, the police state and all, sometimes I get scared, not for myself but for my kids and grandkids.

J: Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself. 6:34

SMtE: Yeah, but it’s still a little scary.

J: Why are you frightened, oh ye of little faith? 8: 26

SMtE: Well, okay, I admit I’m a little lacking there.

J: Don’t be afraid. 17:7 If your faith was the size of a mustard seed, nothing would be impossible. 17:20

SMtE: Do you think we should be going to church more?

J: When you pray, go to your private room and pray to your Father, who is in that secret place. 6:6

SMtE: The churches are telling people to be critical of abortion, contraception, gays, and all things pubic. What would you tell them?

J: Do not judge and you will not be judged, because the judgments you give are the judgments you will get, and the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given. 7:1,2 That is how my heavenly Father will deal with you, unless you forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart. 18:35

SMtE: There are a lot of people making huge sacrifices for those causes. What do you want from them?

J: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. 9:13

SMtE: But what our priests and preachers and televangelists are saying is so opposite to that!

J: Beware of false prophets! 7:15 The tree can be told by its fruit. 12:34 It is not those who say ‘Lord, Lord’ who will enter the kingdom, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. 7:21

SMtE: Have you been reading about pedophiles in the clergy recently?

J: Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of God. 18: 3 Never despise any of these little ones. Their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father. 18:10

SMtE: What do you think of free speech? Does anything go?

J: By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words condemned. 12:37 The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and it is these that make a person unclean. 15:18

SMtE: You probably know what’s happening between the US and Iran today. What words of wisdom would you give Americans to meet this crisis?

J: Always treat others as you would like them to treat you. 7:12 Do not be afraid. 14:28

SMtE: Fair enough, but what will we tell the Zionists who are goading us into a war?

J: Hypocrites! It was you Isaiah meant when he so rightly prophesied: This people honors me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. 15: 7,8

SMtE: Is there anything you’d like to say to us to wrap things up?

J: O, faithless and perverse generation! 17:17 You are all brothers and sisters. 23:8 What does it gain for a person to win the world and lose his soul? 16:26

SMtE: Gosh, why is it that humans just can’t seem to get things straight?

J: The worries of this world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word. 13:22

SMtE: Hey, I gotta tell ya that this has been great, and probably wonderful for the show’s ratings. Thanks a lot.

J: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 6:21

Charles Rayner Kelly is a retired educator, a philosopher and a novelist. Among his novels is LITTLE POOR MAN The Story of St. Francis of Assisi

by Christopher Spicer

A year ago several of us gathered for our clarification of thought regarding the anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our median age was 24 that day at the White Rose Catholic Worker (Chicago) and I recall Jerica mentioning the tradition of plowshare activism. It was vague then, but no longer. This week I have been in Knoxville, TN, expressing my solidarity with plowshare activists.

I wanted to be here to honor friendships formed in Catholic Worker gatherings. They had inspired me to play a part, albeit a hesitant one, in organizing for an Occupy Nukes day Aug. 6. Being here now I cannot not clamor for a day of wakefulness, in the wake of the action in Oak Ridge, Tennessee performed by Michael Walli (63), Megan Rice shcj (82), and Greg Boertje-Obed (57) on July 28.

“Today, through our nonviolent action, we—Transform Now Plowshares—indict the U.S. government nuclear modernization program, including the new Uranium Processing Facility planned at Oak Ridge and the dedication of billions of public dollars to the continuation of the Y-12 facility.”

The hand delivery of this indictment has utterly gripped my imagination. These three embarked from the security of their homes into the deadly force zone of the Y-12 facility, risking it all as they entered the grounds sometime hours before dawn and passing not one, or two, but four fences. They passed through—cut through, is more like it—and searched the Y-12 premises for several hours with this stated intention: “We come to…disarm and end any further efforts to increase the Y-12 capacity for an economy and social structure based upon war-making and empire-building.” When speaking of “any further efforts to increase the Y-12 capacity”, the text of the indictment suggests their intended target:

“Oak Ridge Y-12 is slated to receive more than $6.5 billion in federal funding over the next decade for continuing nuclear weapons production. The new Uranium Processing Facility [UPF] is expected to sustain a nuclear arsenal of 3000-3500 weapons beyond the middle of the century.” They did in fact reach the construction site of the new Uranium Processing Facility.

“As has so often been the case in these kinds of actions,” said Ellen Barfield, member of Veterans for Peace and supporter for Transform Now, “and as many plowshare activists will say, there is the sense that the Holy Spirit has guided them. I believe it too and I don’t even believe in God.”

“We feel it was a miracle; we were led directly to where we wanted to go”, said Boertje-Obed on Saturday in a call from Blount County Detention Center. He explained that after navigating through the complex they came to a long, white, windowless building marked HEUMF. “It was built like a fortress”, he said, describing the four guard towers of the newly built Highly-Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility (HEUMF). The building is adjacent to the site of the proposed UPF.

“Our faith in love and nonviolence encourages us to believe that our activity here is necessary” they wrote in a statement prior to the action. What astonishes me is that the intended “here” was not general to the Y-12 complex, but precisely the construction site of the UPF, and of course that they reached it.

Once they reached the site I suspect the actors already had a felt-sense of God’s guidance, a confirmation of their belief “that our activity here is necessary”. Of the activity that followed they presented a miniature necessity defense in their indictment: “Against these continuing violations of treaty law, we assert our human right to civil resistance. Furthermore we affirm as crucial the human right to be free from these crimes. The Nuremberg Principles not only prohibit such crimes but oblige those of us aware of the crime to act against it. ‘Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity…is a crime under International Law’.”

This August I will be joining Occupy Nukes to renounce my complicity in U.S. war crimes. It has taken Greg Boertje-Obed a sixth plowshare action to get my attention. And now I understand better the urgency of Megan Rice who was a catalyst for Occupy Nukes. Like Michael Walli I want to say, “We are still rejecting the filthy rotten system. Jesus doesn’t want nukes!”

*  *  *

The saintly we meet have a profound effect on our outlook and on the urgency with which we bring our convictions to bear. Before I met Greg, Megan and Michael, the extent of nuclearism was unknown to me. I have come to care about the extent of nuclearism through Security Without Nuclear Deterrence by Commander Robert Green, Royal Navy (Ret.) and studies from Andrew Lichterman of Western States Legal Foundation. Greg once mentioned to me that 10,000,000 have died from nuclearism. To believe it, read Kristen Iverson’s Full Body Burden.

Answering the call of the United States Catholic bishops for a Fortnight for Freedom, on the evening of June 21, we Occupy Catholics gathered on the sidewalk at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Though separated from our cathedral by a cage of police barricades and armed guards, we held a General Assembly on Freedoms to discuss what freedom means in our faith. The bishops have identified threats to freedom of their own, but we, as part of Christ’s church, set out to ask ourselves and each other what freedoms are most urgently under threat in our society, as well as what the obedience our faith demands of us. We announced our prayerful intentions to Cardinal Dolan beforehand, but were answered only with the power of the state.

Following the assembly, we remained through the night in vigil, in a NightFort for Freedom, joined by friends—including fellow Occupiers and the homeless—until attending the next morning’s 7 a.m. mass in the cathedral with the Cardinal. We recorded the assembly and the vigil for in our minutes, our streaming video, and our tweets, and our photos. Overnight, in prayer and sleep, we reflected on the freedoms that we’d earlier discussed, which we’d come to by the guidance of the Spirit, as human beings made in God’s image and seeking God’s justice. The threats to freedom that came foremost to our minds and hearts were these:

  • Freedom from discrimination. Policies like the NYPD’s use of “stop and frisk” have the effect of criminalizing whole populations, thereby supporting a prison-industrial complex that profits from the suffering of vulnerable people. Police departments lack sufficient oversight over their increasingly militarized powers to control and subjugate. Meanwhile, women in our church are increasingly being silenced and victimized for speaking out and following their conscience in ministry. We intend to support the struggle to end such policies through our movement and in our parishes, joining with allies of other faiths and backgrounds, knowing that in God’s eyes the dignity of each depends on recognizing the essential equality of all.
  • Freedom from complicity in war and the economy of the 1%. We want to be able to love our country, but our faith does not permit us to tolerate its practice of perpetual war, aggression, and domination around the world. Life everywhere is good and comes from God, and we have no right to destroy it, least of all in wanton pursuit of profits for the wealthiest, who stand to benefit from war while the poorest are the ones who die. We stand with Pope Paul VI, who said before the United Nations, “No more war, never again war!” Our church and the Occupy movement have often been silent on the evil of modern warfare, which takes ever more insidious forms, and we will work within both to be a voice for a future of justice and peace.
  • Freedom to self-govern in our church and society. Electoral politics, and increasingly our own church, are mired in the tyranny of money and greed, which make society a mockery of its true, divine calling to serve the people, and the most vulnerable above all. The direct democracy practiced in the Occupy movement has inspired us to long for a richer, fuller self-government in our society as well as in our church. While respecting the church’s sacramental offices, we reject their monopoly over the leadership and the public voice of the church as a whole. We want to hear from one another, and encourage one another to lead, by the God-given wisdom invested in each member of Christ’s body. We will not tolerate the violence of faithful voices being silenced. Humanity needs the opportunity to grow and to let the Spirit guide us on the road of transformation.

These are not the only freedoms we discussed. There were others as well, including:

Freedom of assembly • freedom of speech • freedom from torture • freedom of thought • freedom not to kill • freedom of belief • freedom to earn • freedom of conscience • freedom from suffering • freedom from manipulation • freedom to love • freedom of movement • freedom from mass consumption • freedom from relativism • freedom from debt • freedom to live in a healthy environment • freedom to serve the church • freedom from predatory corporations • freedom from greed

We call upon Catholics and allies everywhere to join with us in speaking out about, standing for, and finally occupying these and other freedoms that God, through undying and unlimited love, entrusts to us, that we might share them with each other in our church and our movement.

On Thursday, June 21, in New York there will be a General Assembly at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to discuss the notion of freedom. Although I am unable to attend, these are my preliminary considerations:

by Dave Kovacs

Since we are taking the political notion of religious freedom into a wider context of the religious notion of political freedom, I am going to first say what I take freedom to mean within the context of our Catholic tradition. Then I am going to say something about how the role of the state and political institutions play into freedom. After that, if I can tie those two strands together, I will stop writing and consider my endeavor successful.

Our spiritual ancestors celebrate their freedom at Passover. We read similar passages from the Old Testament during Lent and again at the Easter Vigil: We read of an enslaved people forced to work for low wages. And we hear of their plight when the management insisted they begin doing more work for less pay. This should already sound familiar. But let me be so bold as to highlight some other echoes from our salvation history.

The Book of Exodus also tells us that the enslaved Israelites grumbled but did nothing. As their conditions worsened, they seemed content. Even the ineloquent Moses, confronted by God, was afraid that he could not bring the people to rise up and depart from the injustices of their oppression. But even when the people were willing to be slaves, God desired better for them.

God chose one man, the unlikely criminal from a privileged class, to lead the people from bondage and into liberation. The man, Moses, was incredulous. He was cynical. In his comfort he thought, “But I am one man with little talent! They will not believe me, nor hear my voice!”

But in the divine plan defeat was not an option. The greed of the oppressors had to be overthrown. The people had to be free.

Moses and his brother made an appeal before the politicians. But Pharoah would not listen. Finally, as we know the story: Moses, with God’s help, took the people out of the corrupt system and into freedom. The rulers unleashed chariots and charioteers, but behold, the spirit which animated the freedom of the oppressed was stronger than any army, and we read that God clogged the wheels of the chariots. The very sea meant to prevent the workers from escaping became the enemy of the rulers; the armies were overrun by their own greed.

These stories, which are at the heart of the Jewish liturgy to this day, are recalled again and again in the New Testament. Just as the Jewish people were freed from slavery through water, so we are freed from vice and pride by Baptism. Just as the Jewish people were destined to receive a liberation beyond worldly imagination, today the Spirit calls us to a liberation beyond the corporate and secular imagination.

But our freedom does not require us to abolish the state or abandon society. Rather, it is in the midst of our society and with the aid of human law that we can come to bring people to true freedom.

This is not statism.

Allow me to cite St. Thomas Aquinas’s first article in Q. 95 of the Prima Secundae found in the Summa Theologiae. What, he asks, is the purpose of human laws? And he cites the authority of the Latin Father Isidore in finding three tasks for human law: To curb human audacity, to protect the innocent from the wicked, and to use the threat of force to stop greedy people from harming others.

Is this not what the Occupy movement is about? Do we not seek to curb the most audacious human behaviors, the audacity of those who would send our soldiers to war unnecessarily, that would hold up the violence of the death penalty because it’s politically expedient, the audacity of those who would accept large bribes from the very criminals they claim to stand against? Has the Occupy movement not shown that the audacity of the bailouts, the audacity of austerity, and the audacity of inequality must no longer reign? Have we not stood against the audacity of polluters and the audacity of retirement pension looters?

The Occupy movement represents the first significant movement in a generation to protect the innocent from the wicked. As high school students innocently sign for the student loans that they believe will improve their lives, we stand to protect them from bankers who see student loans as another chance to enslave them. As innocent parents try to raise healthy children, we stand to protect them from marketers who see young faces as profitably potential addicts. As innocent families struggle to make ends meet, we stand to protect them from the forces of foreclosures. We have been and must continue to be, as Jesus was, the voice for the innocent in a world of wickedness.

And we must be willing to use the instruments of law to prevent the wicked from harming others. We must be willing to end wars which kill thousands of people overseas. We must be willing to stand with the workers as their basic rights to collective bargaining for fair wages and decent working conditions are threatened. We must be willing to stand with the sick when the insurance companies seek to harm them by denial of coverage. We must be willing to stand with the teachers when the politicians layoff in the name of tax-cuts. We must be willing to stand with every person who is threatened by the harm of an inherently unjust system.

This is an inherently unjust system because it thrives on greed and human competition without boundaries. The myth of capitalism is that the vice of greed will make society better; in truth, the vice of greed can make only a vicious person and a vicious society. It makes few free and makes many slaves. It makes us slaves to avarice.

And so we must change the system. We must change the minds of the people. And to do this we must rely on something greater than any of us. Like Moses fearful that he could not change the hearts of the oppressed, we must rely on the staff that the Lord has entrusted to us. This staff will part the waters of oppression and apathy.

This staff is the Spirit which continues to inspire all people toward freedom and genuine liberation. This is the staff of spiritual enlightenment. And just as Moses had to be held up, we must hold each other up. We must never give up in this mission, for it is a divine mission, and it is a mission in which we will learn to hold each other up on the left and on the right. We will hold each other up, every one of us, and together we will lead each other to freedom: To economic freedom, to political freedom, to social freedom, and to spiritual liberation. May we never fail to realize that our institutions are only good so long as they help us move toward these freedoms. May we never stop organizing for better and more virtuous institutions capable of this holy quest. May we never stop loving one another with the love God has for us as he hearkens us out of slavery and into freedom.

By now everyone knows that the United States Bishops are claiming that the law which requires employers to provide health insurance that covers drugs and contraceptives is a violation of religious liberty. Never mind the fact that the contraceptive requirement has been in place since 2000 (the only recent change is that the law now applies to employers with fewer than 15 employees and all employers have to include drug coverage; before they could insure without drugs) and it looks suspicious that the Bishops chose an election year to finally complain about it; never mind the fact that very few if any Catholics can make any sense out of the hierarchy’s prohibition on contraception; never mind that the Bishops are unwilling to also extend their argument to religious groups like Jehovas Witnesses, who prohibit organ donation.

Never mind all of that. I am going to show, by using the blazing power of syllogistic logic, why the Bishops are simply wrong.

Let’s look at the syllogism the Bishops would probably put forward:

1. A law which requires a person to buy something which is opposed to his religion violates his religious freedom.
2. The law requires some employers to purchase contraceptives, which are opposed to some employers’ religious beliefs.
Therefore: The law violates some employers religious beliefs.

Assuming (and its a reasonable assumption) that some employers (specifically, perhaps, the bishops themselves) are opposed on religious principle to contraception, this syllogism is valid.

But it is not sound.


Because the second premise is false. Employers don’t buy contraceptives: Employees do by their own choice.

Put another way: By definition, employers pay for one thing and one thing only: Labor and services. They pay for this in two forms: Wages (monetary compensation) and benefits (such as health insurance). An employee can pay for anything he wants (provided it is legal) with his wages and benefits. In this country, we have minimum compensation laws (supported by the Bishops and Catholic tradition) that includes both a minimum wage and, in some cases, minimum health insurance packages. The employee decides how to spend both at his or her own discretion. The employee buys many things, from food to health services, by means of his or her labor and services.

Think of it this way: When you get a paycheck and buy a television, do you say “my employer bought this television?” No, of course not. You earned your paycheck by working. You also earned your health insurance by working. It is your choice how to spend both money and benefits. Your employer may not like how you spend money or benefits, but nevertheless you earned both the money and the benefits. An employer can no more say “I will pay you this amount of money only on condition that you not use it to purchase contraception” any more than he can say “I will provide health insurance provided you do not use it to purchase contraception.” The employer can’t do that because the only thing an employer pays for is your labor and services.

So the Bishops are wrong: The law is not a violation of religious liberty for the simple reason that no one is required to buy anything he or she does not want. No one is required to buy contraceptives.

But it is an election year, and we all remember the past two presidential cycles when some bishops tried to declare it a mortal sin to vote for certain candidates. Since that was too controversial, perhaps they just see this is an alternative way to make their own prejudices known.

Originally published at Subversive Thomism.

There was a flash of wisdom in Occupy Wall Street’s controversial and otherwise unsuccessful attempt to occupy a plot of land owned by Trinity Church on December 17 of last year: if the movement is going to last much longer, it is going to have to occupy, and be supported by, faith. By “faith” I mean religion—the more organized the better. “Hey, church,” one could almost hear the Occupiers saying, as they mounted the giant yellow ladder over the fence and dropped down on the other side, “act like a church.” And, this being just a month after the eviction from Zuccotti Park, “We need you.”

The Occupy movement has been largely a white, urban phenomenon, and one with a bit of a tendency toward vanguardism, which makes it not entirely surprising that it’s often blind to the fact that there is no force more potentially revolutionary in U.S. history or in the country today than religion. But the movement remains oblivious to this fact at its own peril. You who are blind, see.

On the other side of the Atlantic, left intellectuals have been starting to discover what they have to learn from religion about revolution. Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, and Giorgio Agamben have all written about the apostle Paul in recent years: he stood at the intersection of Judaism and Christianity and was the architect of an underground movement that eventually subsumed the Roman Empire. During the early days on Liberty Plaza, actually, I felt like I was witnessing a glimpse of how Paul described his early church: the holding of all things in common, a single-minded asceticism, and local cells miraculously spreading throughout the known world. Living in societies far less religious than ours, thinkers on the European left are realizing that the loss of religious imagination can mean losing the capacity to imagine and take steps toward a radically different kind of society.

It’s hard to think of anyplace where religion’s revolutionary potential has been more fully realized than the United States—both for good and for evil. Many activists nowadays assume the completely non-empirical notion that religion in this country today is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party. But this impression is the result of a very temporary and partial—if singularly effective—alliance forged at the onset of the Reagan era. This alliance need not last. American religion is nothing if not finicky with regard to politics, and highly troublesome to those in power.


The colonial impulse itself, of course, originated among Puritan congregationalists—utopians who sought to create autonomous communities apart from monarchs. This impulse, further radicalized, gave us the concept of religious liberty and the legal right to free thought. In the decades before independence, anti-imperialist ideas spread through the revivals of the First Great Awakening. Quakers, working in leaderless and consensus-based communities, resisted conscription and oath-taking at the behest of the state; in the mid-19th century, they also led the crusade to abolish slavery. Facing discrimination and lack of access to services, Catholic immigrants created a whole system of parallel schools, hospitals, and charities. The Northeast of the 19th century was dotted with off-the-grid communes and experimental lifestyles, run according to the dictates of various religious and spiritualist sects; it was from these that we get Americanisms from Shaker furniture to Graham Crackers. The insurrectionary and separatist Mormons emerged from this milieu as well, until being driven westward to found their socialist Zion in the desert, which they defended from the feds by force of arms.

These are not the exceptions of American religion; inventiveness, suspicion of authority, and autonomy are really right in the mainstream, however cleverly disguised for the sake of bourgeois decency. Want to see mutual aid? Look no further than the nearest suburban, nondenominational megachurch, where members find free day care, credit unions, employment services, good works for the poor, support in times of crisis, and access to a political machine.

While these political machines have tended of late to be co-opted by the 1 percent, in the past they were engines that helped drive (as well as suppress) the early labor movement, and women’s suffrage, together with just about every other political movement with any major impact on American history. And how could it not? About 14 million people belong to labor unions in the United States; closer to 120 million attend religious services regularly. Most of them, at least some of the time, are told in those services to do good, seek justice, and rescue the oppressed. Whether it’s on behalf of affordable housing or the unborn, or for an end to AIDS and human trafficking, religion represents an enormous proportion of how people in this country organize.


The Occupy movement has already caught some of the bounty that faith-based organizing has to offer. Before and especially after last fall’s wave of evictions, Occupiers have met, slept, and eaten in houses of worship. Religious communities possess tremendous quantities of real estate, no small amount of it unused. Such spaces could become available to the movement, and by means more diplomatic than the failed, forced occupations of church property tried in New York and, most recently, San Francisco. Far preferable, I would think, are Occupiers’ successes in defending from closure an historic black church in Atlanta and a Catholic homeless center in Providence.

Meanwhile, for a movement that has still failed to bring eviction-defense and anti-foreclosure action to a mass scale, religious groups provide the ideal platform for doing so; equip them with the right tools and strategies, and when some of their own are threatened by the banks, their fellow faithful will rally to save their homes—not merely on the basis of political ideology, but with the far more powerful motivation of looking out for the community. This kind of action also has special resonance in religious traditions, from the debt-forgiving Jubilee of the Hebrew scriptures, to the radical aid for those in need taught and practiced by Jesus Christ, to the ban on usury in Islamic law. An act may be civil disobedience by temporal standards, but to a higher law, resisting oppression is a basic requirement.

One need only think of the civil rights movement, arguably the last mass resistance movement in the U.S. to win decisive political gains. In it, churches were often the basic units of organizing. Clergy locked arms with activists at the front lines, and together they won.

The tryst between civil rights and churches, however, was not always a happy one. Southern clergy, both black and white, had learned to benefit from segregation, and a new civil rights organizer in town could represent a threat to their privileges. Saul Alinsky claimed that he never got anywhere appealing to clergy by the precepts of their faith. “Instead,” he wrote, “I approach them on the basis of their own self-interest, the welfare of their Church, even its physical property.” An eminent religion reporter I know says he deals with them like he used to deal with the mob. The clergy-driven Occupy Faith network has been created to be an interface between the leaderless movement and the needs of professional religious leaders. It’s not an easy task, Occupy Faith’s organizers realize, but it needs to be done. The alliance between churches and civil rights ultimately worked because courageous people made clear that it had to.

While most religious communities don’t come anywhere near the Occupy standard for horizontality and transparency—nor does Occupy, for that matter—they’re not as bad as an outsider might think. The flock often finds plenty of ways of scaring the shepherd—from the power of the pocketbook, to steering committees and boards, to the threat of simply picking up and going elsewhere. That’s why, as with unions, Occupy isn’t going to get anywhere with religious communities until it wins over the rank-and-file. Then, leaders will have to show support for the movement, or else.


As I stood waiting for the action against Trinity Church to begin on December 17, I struck up a conversation with a man in a Roman collar and a black beret, Fr. Paul Mayer—a formerly married Catholic priest and veteran of every major American social justice movement since he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the 1960s. Trinity is an Episcopal church; I asked him what he thought Catholics would do if OWS were making a demand like this of us.

“We’d be worse,” he replied.

I didn’t know it at the time, but, together with Episcopal Bishop George Packard and Sr. Susan Wilcox, a Catholic nun, Mayer was about to lead the charge over the fence, down onto Trinity property, and promptly into police custody. The following night, out of jail, he and Wilcox joined me and a lapsed cradle Catholic, a theologian, and a sociology student for the first meeting of Occupy Catholics at a bar near Zuccotti Park. We came together with a common but still not quite clarified desire to create an affinity group of Catholics involved with the movement, as well as to take what the movement was teaching us and bring it to our church. Maybe, someday, we could help Catholic churches respond better to Occupiers than Trinity did, and vise versa.

So far our emphasis has been on reaching out to laypeople, online and through the social justice ministries of nearby churches. We’ve held a general assembly at Maryhouse Catholic Worker, part of the organization Dorothy Day co-founded with Christian anarchist principles to serve the poor and struggle for justice and peace. For months we’ve been slowly growing, planning, and praying about how to lead our church, the biggest landowner in New York City, to join Occupy’s call for a more righteous society. We’ve been teaching Catholics about the movement and Occupiers about the long and deep Catholic social justice tradition. We got this group going because the connection between Occupy and our faith was so obvious we couldn’t ignore it. We needed this movement, and we know that the movement no less needs us.

This past Good Friday, the most solemn day of the Christian year, we stood in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and sang, “Were you there when they crucified the poor?” against the bishops’ silence on a budget in Congress poised to slash services upon which the 99 percent depends. “We love our church,” we cried with the people’s mic, “and right now the church needs to speak.” So we did. Maybe next time we go to St. Patrick’s, we’ll be sleeping on the sidewalk.

By Nathan Schneider, from Killing the Buddha. A version of this article appears in n+1‘s Occupy! The OWS-Inspired Gazette issue 4.